November is National Family Caregivers Month and the perfect time to recognize the tens of millions of Americans who help older parents, spouses, adult children with disabilities, and other loved ones to live independently in their homes and communities. We are:
- Partners and spouses caring for each other
- Fathers caring for their aging parents
- Grandparents caring for their grandkids
- Parents caring for their children with disabilities
- Grandmothers taking care of their husbands,
- Next-door neighbors’ kids and grandkids taking care of them
- Friends caring for friends and extended family
Family caregiving transcends politics and generational lines. People across party lines are caregiving, and almost 1 in 10 caregivers are age 75 or older, while 1 in 4 are millennials.
It touches everyone, including myself. My two millennial sons and I are currently caring for my husband, their father, who has ALS.
To mark National Family Caregivers Month, AARP is shining a bright light on the experiences of family caregivers: their stories of hope, love, dedication — and perseverance. Today, we unveil an exhibit, Portraits of Care: Family Caregivers Across the United States, on Capitol Hill.
From the thousands of family caregiver stories and photos submitted through our I Heart Caregivers storytelling initiative, we randomly selected 53 — one from each state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — to receive an artist’s painting featuring the caregiver with his or her loved one.
This is just one small yet significant way to recognize the unsung heroes who give their hearts each and every day as family caregivers. We are the meal-givers, medicine-givers, compassion-givers. We help loved ones:
- bathe and dress
- prepare meals
- drive to medical appointments
- assist with finances and much more
Some family caregivers even do complex medical tasks like giving injections, managing complicated medications or cleaning wounds — often with little or no training. Many provide such care while working full time, and often they are on call 24/7 without a break. Family caregiving is not without its challenges.
This is why AARP is fighting for family caregivers in communities across the country, working with business, technology and elected officials for more support, help at home, workplace flexibility, training and more.
We’re also working on Capitol Hill, where the bicameral, bipartisan Assisting Caregivers Today (ACT) Caucus is striving to bring greater visibility and support for family caregivers.
Special thanks to the co-chairs, U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) for their leadership. Further, AARP has endorsed the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Act, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), which would require the development of a national strategy to recognize and support family caregivers.
Everything we do all comes back to family caregivers — the people who are caring for their loved ones. It is your experiences, your stories that will create the road map to change. So please continue to raise your voices, share your stories, and help us fight for you.
Lynn and Randy — Loveland, Colo.
“I often feel overwhelmed, but my guys deserve dignity and to be able to stay at home.”
A cancer survivor, Lynn, age 61, cares for her husband of 14 years, Randy, who is a veteran with stage 4 kidney cancer as well as peripheral artery disease. She was also a caregiver for her 93-year-old father, until he passed away in October. Lynn, a certified nursing assistant, had to cut back her work hours from full to part time so she could focus on her caregiving responsibilities.
Linda and Larry — Bradenton, Fla.
“The adjustment of going from a reciprocal relationship to 100% caregiver was the first challenge to conquer. No one will ever be able to care for my husband like I can.”
Linda, age 71, is a mother of three, a marathon runner, and has a law degree. For the past eight years, she has cared full time for Larry, her husband of 48 years, who has dementia and COPD.
Amy and Lorraine – Wells, Maine
“Some nights she was so sick, she could not make it upstairs to bed. She would sleep down in the living room in her recliner. I slept on the couch in case she needed help.”
Amy, age 53, gave up her job as a medical secretary to provide complex care full time for her mother, Lorraine, who developed a rare fungal infection after heart surgery. Amy cared for Lorraine for three years before her mother died in 2009. She has since been meeting with a grief counselor.
Pamela and Paul — Lena, Miss.
“You’re just doing what you need to do moment by moment. You become so obsessed with every move, every need, every breath.”
Pamela, age 58 and married with two grown children, was living in Chicago when her younger brother, Paul, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She moved to Mississippi to be his caregiver during the last month of his life. She managed his medications, cooked and cleaned—whatever needed to be done. Paul died, surrounded by family, at age 43.
Sherri and Woody — Goffstown, N.H.
“Challenging, rewarding, heartbreaking, fulfilling, all-consuming and life changing — just a few of the words I would use to describe the experience of taking care of my dad.”
Sherri, age 57, cared for her father, Woody, for 10 years. She helped with everything, depending on the day. Woody, who died in 2011, had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. He eventually moved to a nursing facility when Sherri could no longer care for him. Sherri remembers getting to know her dad in the last years “in a way you couldn’t know any other way.”
Valentin and Ruby — Corrales, N.M.
“I want my mother to be happy and comfortable in her home with people she loves for as long as she’s alive.”
Valentin, age 65, travels 100 miles every Thursday evening to spend the night and all day Friday with his mother, Ruby, who has mobility and memory impairment. In addition to being her companion, he cooks meals, helps Ruby get dressed and gives her medication. Valentin shares caregiving duties with his four brothers and four sisters, each of whom has designated days to stay with Ruby.
Patricia and Bob — Sevierville, Tenn.
“My husband of over 50 years passed away three years ago. But before he passed, we lived through one of the most challenging parts of our marriage.”
For seven years, Patricia, age 74, provided 24/7 care for her husband, Bob, after he had a stroke and then fell and contracted an MRSA infection after one of numerous surgeries. At 4 feet 11 inches tall, she helped Bob, who was over 6 feet tall, in every way there was — some obvious like bathing and feeding, and others like turning the pages on his beloved books when he no longer could.
Sherrie and Erik — Mukwonago, Wis.
“If I can get the people I care about to laugh out loud, it fires my engines and I’m good to go!”
At age 50, Sherrie, who has multiple sclerosis, exemplifies the sandwich generation. She helps care for her adult son, Erik, who was diagnosed with aggressive Tourette’s disease at age 11 and suffers from Lyme disease. Sherrie also assists her parents, Phil and Joan, who live more than two hours away, visiting overnight regularly to share stories, cook dinner and help with paperwork.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.
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